Who Cares:
A National Count of Foster Homes and Families

About

Methodology

The goal of this project is to identify recent trends in foster home capacity for each state and Washington, D.C. We examine several key variables in this area.

The number of youth in foster care

We have included the fiscal year 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 figures from the federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS).

Because AFCARS lags behind current-year information—fiscal 2017 is the most recent report—we also asked each state to provide the number of youth in foster care as of March 31, 2018, or the nearest date for which data was available.  

The number of foster homes

We ask each state to identify the total number of licensed foster homes, regardless of non-relative or relative status, as of March 31, or the nearest date for which data was available.

We also ask each state to provide the number of non-relative foster homes.

The use of relatives to care for youth

We obtained AFCARS data from 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 to identify the number of foster youth living with relatives. We also ask each state to provide the number of relatives with an active, ongoing placement as of March 31 or the nearest date for which data was available.  

Unpaid Placements

We use AFCARS data from these years to isolate the number of children living with relatives, or non-relative foster parents, where no foster care payment from the child welfare agency has been recorded.

The use of congregate care

Congregate care is a term that refers to larger foster care placement settings such as group homes and institutions. We obtained AFCARS data from 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 to identify the number of foster youth living in these settings.

We also ask each state for the number of congregate care providers retained by the child welfare agency on March 31 or the nearest date for which data was available.  

Demographics of foster care

We obtained AFCARS data from 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 for the following data related to demographics:

  • Race of foster youths
  • Race of foster parents
  • Percentage of youth who are 13 or older

Limitations

While federally collected AFCARS data is available for all states, some states were unable to answer, or were unresponsive to, our questions. Further, while we made an identical request to each state and worked with several to ensure clarity on our questions, it is possible that states define certain data elements differently.

There are likely discrepancies between AFCARS point-in-time data and states’ point-in-time data due to the structure of AFCARS. For example, some states’ self-reported total number of youth in care for 2018 may include youth in extended foster care; AFCARS would not include this group in the total number of youth in care.

It is also important to note that our research questions for this project focuses entirely on issues of quantity. Of greater importance to the child welfare field are policies and practice that ensure the quality and preparedness of all foster parents, and the removal of children from birth families is done only when it is absolutely necessary.

About The Chronicle of Social Change

Launched in 2013, The Chronicle of Social Change is an online news publication dedicated to solution-based news coverage of child welfare, juvenile justice, mental health and educational issues faced by vulnerable children.

The Who Cares project is done with the generous support of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.